Free-of-charge social supermarket opens


The Wellington City Mission has turned the way it provides food parcels on its head.

Instead of making up parcels for clients, Wellington City Mission welcomed its first customers to pick their own items at its social supermarket on Tuesday.

This move provides people who need support with choice.

The social supermarket – the first of its kind in New Zealand – is just like any other supermarket, with fruit and vegetables, sanitary products, pasta, cheese and baked beans lined up along the aisles.

Wellington City Mission staff and volunteers are at hand to help customers choose what to select for themselves and their families.

Anyone in need across the Wellington region is allowed to go to the supermarket.

Items are free. Instead of using cash, shoppers are given a number of points to spend depending on their family size and whether they were shopping for themselves.

Items cost between one and five points. Items worth one point include sanitary products and canned food. Five point items include nappies, baby formula and chocolate-dipped almonds.

This year, Wellington City Mission’s food parcel service will be gradually phased out as people shop at the social supermarket.

For Wellington City Missioner Murray Edridge​, the social supermarket represents “dignity in choice.”

“We have so many families in the community who live life on the edge that it takes very little to push them over – more families are reaching out for our services too because of Covid-19,” Edridge says.

“It’s never just about food – it reflects other things and the big one is the cost of housing, which is so high in Wellington. There’s so much pressure and stress to pay the bills that sometimes there’s not enough money leftover to buy food.”

“The social supermarket is giving people the opportunity to choose and there’s dignity in choice. The experience of shopping is going to be really powerful,” Edridge said.

People could have a sense of “normality” in what they did without feeling stigmatised by their circumstances, he said.

The supermarket is open from Monday to Friday to shoppers by appointment only. Each appointment lasts about half an hour.

Chris Quin​, the chief executive of Foodstuffs North Island, says Foodstuffs staff installed 250 shelves and stacked 3000 products for the supermarket.

“I think we’ve cracked something here that will make a difference,” he says.

For parents to be able to tell their kids they were going shopping, gave families respect and dignity, he says.

People wanting to shop at the social supermarket can visit the Mission’s reception in Newtown to make an appointment.

Later this year, the supermarket will move to the Mission’s new community building in Wellington’s Mt Cook suburb.

The building will have a community cafe, kitchens, laundry services, public bathrooms and showers, a space for people to pray and 35 housing units designed to accommodate people experiencing chronic homelessness.

In September 2020, Wellington City Mission received $10 million from the Government as part of its “shovel-ready” programme. Whakamaru will be complete in 2022.


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